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2009 Detroit Auto Show / North American International Auto Show (NAIAS)

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2009 Detroit Auto Show / North American International Auto Show (NAIAS)

by David Zatz

2010 NAIAS | 2007 NAIAS | 2008 NAIAS | 2009 Chicago | Other auto shows

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The setup this year apparently saved a huge amount of money, and clever lighting people were able to create a striking, clean, appropriate effect with (thanks to a light gray carpet and white cloth overhead) a fairly bright, even light. Two of the featured cars are the electric Chrysler Town & Country and an electric Wrangler already shown. The others are the brand new Chrysler 200C, the Patriot EV, and the Dodge Circuit, a Copperhead-like version of the Dodge EV.

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The crowd this year is undiminished from past Detroit Auto Shows, and the displays remain lavish - perhaps more open. Chrysler's huge display area in the back, between Toyota and Mercedes, has its own white ceiling (cloth stretched across the entire length and width of the area), coupled with the lack of dividing walls, this gives the area a nice clean, open effect. The signage is mostly white and light gray, adding to the effect - a sharp contrast from the rather dark areas of some years. The effect on the displayed cars was positive and beneficial, as the light striking them was more natural - showing off the various Challengers in a better light.

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On display was a Viper ACR, several varieties of Challenger (not the Drag Pack, but two R/Ts, one SE, and one SRT8 - one of the R/T models being used to show off Mopar Performance accessories), numerous trucks, a couple of GEM cars, and the usual staples of the Mopar line (minivans, 300s, etc.)

GOING TO THE AUTO SHOW: Cobo Hall is a friendly arena, all on one floor, well maintained with convenient rest rooms. Parking is in the basement, on the roof, across the street, and down/under the street, with a standard $10 price. Police presence was clear but so were a large number of businesses and pedestrians which could not have remained if the neighborhood was truly unsafe. The hall itself had fairly good lighting and wide aisles.

If you live in the area, go to the auto show. It's one of the grandest shows in the country.

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Bob Nardelli showed up just before the presentation and was popular with the press... he was even more popular afterwards.

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First, Jim Press came on stage and made a couple of quick quips about the absence of cattle this year, then said: "Now we can move past it." He introduced the executives, noted that the first $4 billion loan came just in time, and that the company was looking forward to the second $7 billion loan and TARP funds for Chrysler Financial. He noted that in the first half of 2008 Chrysler was doing well, with production above the targets and cuts as planned; and then the second half brought crises of credit, confidence, and fuel prices.

Two EVs have already been released (Patriot and Circuit) - the third is from Chrysler and we think it will be an electric version of the next-generation 300. The stage is set up, with a bright "pentastar and power cord" backlit image behind, and dangling power cords accenting the white backdrop.

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Jim Press then introduced the executives, noted that they had slashed fleet sales by 200,000 (1/3) to help resale values and image; dealer inventory was down by 12% by the end of the year; 100,000 units were dropped from sales due to the cuts of four models. He said that while they expected sales to be fairly flat in 2009, it would be a far better year. The restructuring started 17 months ago and continued; $1.2 billion was achieved in cost reductions; warranty rates are the lowest in the company's history. "We are building cars and trucks that people want and love."

As usual, Jim read from a teleprompter but did considerable ad-libbing, rather than reading exactly what was there; at one point later on, he seemed to give Frank Klegon a bit of a jar by striking off on his own again. The result is that Jim sounds more credible than the usual auto executive.

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Frank Klegon noted that the 40 mile range of the electric vehicles is significant because 80% of Americans drive less than 40 miles per day. He noted that ENVI is looking at making a four wheel drive Jeep electric vehicle, with each wheel independently operated for the ultimate in traction.

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The Dodge Circuit got a nice round of applause with its new, improved body; the looks are both striking and familiar, harkening back to the Copperhead, with a new interior to go along with the new color and front and rear. The rear has some resemblance to the Dodge Stealth and Intrepid.

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Then Frank Klegon called Jim Press up to the stage. The two shared a few lines, then Press quipped that you could tell who had more experience - because Frank had moved off the display area. With that, a new car slowly, silently pulled onto the stage, clearly under its own power: the Chrysler 200C. Dozens of photographers and video men rushed up from their seats to get up front, crowding the aisles to get closer to the car.

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The 200C "has beauty and brains, like Frank and I," said Press; he also noted, "Our engineering heritage is part of our DNA" when discussing the interior.

Event Crowd

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The electric Chrysler 200C car has an exciting look which retains much of the 300's feel, while modernizing it and giving it a much more aerodynamic-looking shape. When it rolled onto the stage, the reaction from the crowd of seasoned and cynical journalists was surprising - almost a gasp of excitement from the crowd, while photographers rushed up to the aisle to grab the first shots.

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Aside from its own attributes - excellent cornering (according to Klegon and Press) and the striking appearance - the 200C can be given the new Phoenix high performance V6 or a hybrid powertrain. It also has a new electronics connectivity which is unparalleled, including a navigation system that you can add "buddies" to, and which will guide you to your friends - and which can show live results from traffic cameras, and the most fuel efficient routes to take. The 200C comes with a "teen mode" which warns of erratic driving or going out of a specified range, and limits the maximum speed; and with a remote that lets you see the car's environment through onboard cameras, lock and unlock, start, lower the windows, etc.

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The Chrysler 200C concept is apparently not based on the LX platform, but it is rear wheel drive and somewhat smaller than the 300C. The car appears to be a short-wheelbase version of the next generation LX; the people we spoke with could not provide details, as one would expect. (More 200C coverage including related interviews)

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Second Press Day

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The Chrysler area was abuzz with activity, which is a good sign. The executives were doing TV and radio interviews, with and without the new cars; there seemed to be more interest in the Chrysler area than in many others, despite the lack of models (some of the exotics had one model per car) or "kewl" displays.

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Sitting quietly with no signage was a brand new, moderately horse-power boosted Dodge Challenger R/T Classic with numerous unique features... and no Challenger logo in the grille.

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Most of the activity, to be fair, was in the designated press-interview box, but that was far more crowded than some other manufacturers' interview areas - larger, too. Dead center was Bob Nardelli surrounded, as usual, by TV cameras and bright lights.

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More NAIAS photography

Also shown was the new bright white PT Dream Cruiser Series Five...

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Here's some guy slumming in the Volkswagen section... the exterior looks very different; the interior, not so much, with essentially the top Chrysler trim used along with a different gauge cluster.

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Chrysler 200C Interior...

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The Circuit has an interesting interior now...

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We haven't seen the motor with range extender of the EV range yet. Here's the Patriot's.

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Ralph Gilles had his happy moments.

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More show photos

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And of course there are the usual Ram trucks, showing off the rear suspension with the cutaway model:

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Chinese automaker BYD Auto was showing off their new plug-in hybrid-electric car, which uses a three-cylinder engine and a big electric motor to travel a good range. Our resident expert said it looked like a good design.

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For details and photos of the cars, see our minivans, Dodge Avenger, and Dodge Viper pages

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